Professional Poker Player
The first time I met Adam was during a yoga class at my local studio. Admittedly I didn't talk to other students that much, because I was solely focused on my own journey on the mat. While I was grabbing my belongings after class and was just about ready to hightail out of the studio, Adam made a comment to me about how the class kicked our asses. (No question about it - the class was a bona fide ass-kicking power vinyasa.) We struck up a short, friendly conversation, and from that moment on I always greeted Adam and was genuinely happy to see him in a class.
Thanks to Adam, I was reminded of one of the many reasons why I love yoga in the first place: community. In fact, I started conversing more with other students whom I would see regularly. Whether someone's intention for doing yoga is fitness, mental clarity, relaxation, emotional balance, deepening connection with Spirit, etc., we hold space for each other while raising our vibrations to a level of healing.
I switched up my yoga routine to accommodate my work schedule, so I hadn't seen Adam for months until Yoga Teacher Training. An intensive weekend of training gave me an opportunity to learn more about Adam's weight loss transformation, which is fascinating and inspiring. So worth the share!
Interview with Adam Duong
KC: How's your wellness journey been so far and at what point did you realize that you needed to change your lifestyle for the better?
AD: All throughout elementary, middle school and my first years in high school, I was a 4.0 student. I was playing a lot of tennis and was in decent shape. During my junior year of high school in 2009, I met the wrong people. I started skipping school and drinking a lot. My GPA went from a 4.0 to 0.0. I did this for about 2 years, which ended up with me almost not graduating. At the end of my high school career, the school allowed me to do some online courses that gave me enough units to pass. Lucky for me I did. I had no fundamentals for working hard even after high school. While I was in high school, I had picked up poker. I decided not to go to college and played poker... unsuccessfully. Poker was going very mediocre for me.
In 2013, I decided to go back to college. I played tennis for my junior college in Sacramento where I met a coach named Bo-Jabery Madison, one of the greatest people I met in my life. When I was younger playing tennis, a lot of the coaches pretty much cared if I won or not. Obviously they cared if I practiced but purely because they were focused on me winning, which made them look better. Bo saw my situation: a 0.0 GPA student, 225 pounds (I gained 70-80 pounds in that 2008-2012 period), playing poker for a living and not very good at it. He actually cared about what was going on in my personal life - my parents and girlfriend at the time. Bo really tried to help me succeed in all these areas of my life. I cared that he cared about me. After one hard-working season with him, it took off from there. I went from 225 pounds to 185 pounds in 2 seasons with Bo.
This [momentum] continued into 2017 when I met a great friend, Aaron McCormack. He is a professional poker too and just recently got his yoga certification. We talked about health and wellness, and he offered to be my moral support for the next 2 years. I literally called this guy everyday for the next 3 years. We talked about food. He would send me workouts and do them with me. Til this day I still call this guy everyday about life and fitness. I know what it's like to go through fitness and health alone. You try things and fail... try some things... fail. To have that person who held me accountable was the greatest thing for me specifically for weight loss.
KC: I totally agree. Accountability is important. There are certain things that I find difficult in motivating myself. I used to have a personal trainer, because I couldn't workout at the gym with the same level of discipline and focus as when I was working out with my trainer.
AD: And to add to that while talking about support in someone's health journey... A friend of ours, who is 30 years old, 6'1 and 330 pounds, reached out to us and said, "Hey, it looks like you guys are doing well on your fitness journey. Can you help me out?" We thought, "Wow. This is perfect. Let's shoot a documentary on the guy." If the documentary does nothing, then no problem. Our friend has something to look back on. But if this does really well a lot of people can look at this guy and think, "Wow. Maybe I can do this too." Try to inspire the world.
We shot the pilot 9.5 months ago from his first yoga session, first strength workout, what his house looked like, his diet. Fast forward and he's 252 pounds. He lost 78 pounds. We did Mission Peak the other day, which he was not able to do 3 years ago. He did it with flying colors. So proud of the guy.
KC: That's incredible! Very cool about the documentary as well. Is this something you want to explore in the future? Life coaching and health coaching.
AD: Yes. If you think of what my profession is, I'm taking from people. I feel like I don't give much back value to society, so this is something that gives me a lot of fulfillment.
KC: Going back to your friend who helped you with a structure on working out and dieting. What did that look like and what has been sustainable for you to stay on track?
AD: Our talks started off with what the schedule would look like for the day. Is there a body part that hurt? What's possible today? This applied to workouts. Should I do yoga, a small run or walk? Same thing with food.
Honesty came into play. I trusted this guy, so I felt safe telling him how I felt today. Like, my leg hurt that day so I can't do anything. Or I would tell him, "I think we could do this workout today." I would give excuses, say no or yes to workouts, but having deep conversations of what was possible that day was what really led me to this idea of sustainability. Experimentation and meeting in this middle ground.
I obviously had a period where I was killing myself everyday. This was stupid. Or times where I was selling my short everyday and not doing anything.
KC: With that said, what were your challenges going through your weight loss?
AD: This idea of time. I'm a big believer that if you really want something, it becomes a priority, and you can do it. It takes discipline to make it part of your schedule. For me, on days that I felt I wouldn't have a lot of time, I'd get up 30 minutes earlier and be very diligent with my time. Then some days I have all the time in the world and could spend 2 hours in the gym.
I'd say the food part was the hardest though. We are surrounded by food 24/7. We have to eat 2-4 times a days, whereas a workout is 30 min to 2 hours and you're done for the day. So the temptation was definitely there for food. I've been tested a couple of times. I said, "Fuck it. I'm going to have this," and call Aaron and be like, "I had this..." Then we would talk about why I think led to this [decision]. What happened in my day? It was mostly stress eating for me. When things got a little hard or I felt a little depressed.
KC: Has your change in lifestyle impacted your performance on a poker table?
KC: How do you stay grounded and health conscientious while being surrounded in the casino environment where there are people smoking and drinking?
AD: I don't like to live according to the norm. I consider myself very different. I'm very particular with whom I network with in the casino. The environment you talk about... it's there. You can find it. It's all around me all the time. But because I have my own goals on my mind, I understand what it's like to work toward something and have that feeling of succeeding. I can always see the finish line and what it's going to take.
I didn't answer your previous question though. Performance. I have a routine every morning. Wake up. Brush my teeth. Make my bed. I go play tennis or go for a run. I'm out of the house within 30 minutes. That gives me a winning mentality when I go into poker. Making my bed in the morning. Starting the day with a run. It's all these things that give me mental clarity and make me feel confident about my profession. Having this kind of discipline allows me to get more sleep, study harder, and overall have less stress. I know what it's like to bring stress while I'm working. It's hard to get stuff done.
KC: How are other people in your professional network reacting to your transformation? You mentioned, for example, your friend that you are doing the documentary with was a poker buddy who was inspired by your weight loss journey.
AD: I get a lot of that these days. People asking me, "How did you do it, man? You look so different. You're much happier. You're way nicer at the table. You're just nice to be around."
I used to not have a great attitude. I'll share a story about a time in high school. I'm very sorry to this coach by the way! I lost a really close match in a tournament to a guy I've beaten a bunch of times. During the trophy ceremony, the guy gave me a 2nd place trophy. I took it and launched it over the fence, walked away and said, "Fuck this." I had this kind of attitude until 2013 when I just started playing poker too. People knew me as this big kid, poor hygiene, overweight, drinking a lot, poor attitude. Not the person you wanted to be around.
People are now telling me that I'm more talkative at the table. They hear in the tone of my voice that I'm happy. They see that I'm in shape, play a lot better and work so hard.
KC: Let's talk about yoga. When did yoga fit in your health and wellness journey?
AD: When I graduated from college and finished playing college tennis, I had a torn rotator cuff. There were movements that were hard for me. My workouts were becoming affected because of that. Me and my buddy Aaron did a bunch of research on this yoga thing, so we figured let's try it for a year. We made a bet with each other where we had to do 8 yoga classes for a month for the whole year. For every one that you're off... say I did 7... I would have to give him $100. Within 7-8 months, I felt a big difference with my rotator cuff in mobility and strength. It's like, "Hey man, we're on to something." I noticed in the yoga studio why all these people were there. Everybody was there to better themselves. People see the benefit in it. That's why I try to be more social at the studio, because I enjoy the people there.
KC: Why did you choose to do the teacher training?
AD: I truly believe in the process of yoga and all that yoga has to offer. I really want to share this with my friends and family. The way for me to do that is to further my practice and get better at it. I also thought it would be cool to lead a yoga retreat out of the country, because I went to Morocco with Aaron and had a blast. It would be so cool to lead something like that.
KC: Any last words?
AD: Find a space where you can share. I found that journaling and talking to my personal development coach each week has given me so much clarity in parts of my life when I feel stressed or confused. Just talk about it... these things that seem not so great. They're a part of my life. There's no such thing as good and bad. They're things that happen. I ask how I can make things positive and beneficial for me.